Kelly Blankstein always loved numbers and math, and this led her, at 17, to begin her studies at Simon Fraser University where she went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree majoring in pure mathematics with a minor in psychology. Shortly after graduating, Kelly returned to SFU to obtain a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree with a focus in accounting.
While still a student, Kelly was recruited to article with KPMG in Vancouver, later obtaining her Chartered Accountant designation in 2000 after successfully obtaining honour roll standing on the final exams, granted to the top 10 students in the province.
After leaving KPMG, Kelly worked at CHC Helicopter as Corporate Controller, responsible for worldwide accounting for this multi-national organization.
Kelly currently works at Cadillac Fairview Corporation (“CF”), one of North America’s largest owners, operators and developers of commercial real estate with over $26B in assets. As Controller for the Western Canada Portfolio, she is responsible for the oversight of operational accounting and reporting, budgeting, cash management, capital spend management and business decision support for the largest CF portfolio. As part of the Western Portfolio senior management team, she has contributed to delivering higher-than-benchmark returns 4 years in a row.
In addition, Kelly implemented and oversees CF’s Enterprise Risk Management program where she develops metrics and analytics to track and monitor the Company’s risk profile. Using this insight, she works with the Executive Team and the Board to turn risk mitigation into strategic advantage for the organization.
In every year of her professional career, Kelly has been identified as an exceptional performer and has been quickly promoted in each of the organizations she has worked for. However, her most important accomplishment is her children, Charlie and Nolan.
Why did you choose to go to SFU?
I chose to go to Simon Fraser primarily because I was from the local area and wanted to stay in BC for my education. When it came time to decide between Simon Fraser University and UBC, I was impressed with the quality of the mathematics department and programs at Simon Fraser and hence, made my decision.
Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?
I spent a majority of my time in the library studying when I wasn’t attending classes.
What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?
It was the day that I convocated for the first time (BSc). That was a very important day not just for me, but for my entire family. Both of my parents were accomplished business people, but because they came from single parent families, they weren’t able to afford to go to university, despite the fact both of them were very intellectual and would have loved to. They worked very hard building their business and invested heavily in my success, always supporting and encouraging me all the way through my studies. The day I obtained my BSc I received it on behalf of them as well as me.
I will never forget that day of convocation – it was a very wet, cold day at the school, and being amongst that concrete brings a particular chill to your bone as you wait outside for your name to be called. Of the approximately 2,000 students graduating that day, I was probably fifth from last because our surname began with “W”. We still joke about how long we all waited for the certificate to be handed to me and my name to be called to walk up to the stage! Despite the weather, there was no way any of us were going to miss it.
Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?
Norman Reilly, mostly because I found him to be a very kind man and he was really strong in how he taught – the course materials and lectures were engaging and he showed a real interest in the subject matter that captured my attention and made it easy for me to learn and understand. I had several courses with him during my time at SFU, and I particularly remember learning public key cryptosystems from him.
How has your SFU degree impacted your career?
From the time I was little, I always had an affinity for numbers and I did well in school, but I think that obtaining a BSc with a major in mathematics gave me the confidence that I could excel anywhere in life, or in my career. At the time I was at university, there weren’t nearly as many women in the 400 level pure mathematics courses as there probably are now. In addition, getting A’s in those upper level math courses isn’t easy!
I liked that the subject matter was tough and it was somewhat not typical for someone like me to pursue that educational path. I worked really hard and did very well in my studies, and this has given me a great deal of confidence and tenacity, providing a foundation for all my professional success since.
What is your favourite SFU snow story?
I can’t say I have any favourite snow stories because I hated to miss classes (or be late!) due to cancellation. Driving up that hill when there was any amount of snow was exceptionally anxiety producing.
If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?
I think that students today have a difficult time finding employment after university and this probably puts a whole lot of pressure on them to choose a field of study that will increase their chances of employment, and it might not always be something that they love to learn about.
I truly believe that if you study what you love, and what excites you, that will translate to success in the future, even if it isn’t obvious where that educational path might lead.
What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?
I would say the location. There is something special about going to a university that sits high above the rest of the surrounding areas and is, in some ways, isolated from the rest of the world. When you arrive on campus you know you are there for a purpose – higher learning – and I liked the segregation and surroundings that SFU provided to enhance that.